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Speech: Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 8 Sep 2017

Monday 4 September

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (11:27): With the legislation before us, we can see the Turnbull government giving another leg-up to very rich, very powerful companies—companies whose business model is based on underpayment of workers. This has been further entrenched by the minister, Senator Cash, rolling over and supporting these amendments from the Liberal Democrats. Why is she doing it? She still hasn't given us an explanation for rolling over. The government might put a fancy title on this bill, which says it is about protecting vulnerable workers, but we know, when the coalition, the Liberal-Nationals, come up with titles like that, the intent is very different, and that is absolutely the case here.

We are talking about franchisors like Caltex, 7-Eleven and Domino's, who make millions of dollars in profits off the backs of vulnerable workers—workers who are largely isolated at their places of work, which are usually not unionised, who have maybe a little English and who are often just out of school. It is very hard for them to stand up for themselves. How do you take on some of these very big, powerful companies that have all the experience under the sun on how to dodge, weave and get away with not giving decent wages and fair conditions to these workers? The level of exploitation—and I pay tribute to many of the journalists who have reported on this issue in detail, as well as the unions who have taken it on so strongly—and the profits of these companies show why they're sticking with their business model and why the minister is locking that in even further. Caltex made a $610 million full-year net profit in 2016. Dominos pulled in a net profit of $103 million, up 25 per cent on the previous year. How did they pull off a 25 per cent increase on the previous year? Some people might say it's a successful company; lots of people eat their pizzas and believe the Dominos slogan that they're the world leader in pizza delivery. But that's not why they are pulling in those profits. They're pulling them in because of the extreme exploitation and underpayment of workers, and it is so hard for workers to recoup their money when they work out what's happened to them. The way these companies dodge and weave is ruthless.

Then we have the other aspect going on here, which is former Minister Billson. This is a scandal the Turnbull government largely got away with—another minister abusing his position was swept under the carpet. It looked like he was well ahead of many other ministers, who were waiting to take up their lobbying activities when they left parliament—he was doing it when he was in parliament, working for franchisors, effectively campaigning and working against many of the small-business communities that he was supposed to be the minister for. He had chosen one sector, the franchisors, to really get behind, really back, and had been lobbying his own ministers in this place. So what we have before us are well and truly the Billson amendments, and the minister should explain why she's backing these amendments to a government bill. I know we have such amendments now and then, but this has gone too far. This bill is not about protecting vulnerable workers—it should be renamed the ripping off vulnerable workers bill.

The CHAIR: The question is that amendments (1) to (6) on sheet 8204 revised 2 be agreed to.

Question negatived.

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